Bringing a second dog into your home might seem like a no-brainer. After all, dogs love hanging out and frolicking together, right? In theory, sure, but the reality of living in a harmonious multi-dog household takes planning and work in order to learn how to help dogs get along.
Most puppies welcome the opportunity to play with other canine companions, but as dogs mature, they develop preferences about the type of dogs they like to be around, if any. (Yes, some dogs are born loners.)
That said, there are proactive steps pet parents can take to help dogs get along with each other that range from simple household management techniques to basic training that will help ensure a happy canine siblinghood.
Why Some Dogs Can’t Get Along
Much like humans don’t like every person they encounter, our dogs may feel the same way about their own species. Of course, there are some dogs that seem to get along with every pup they encounter, but most have preferences related to their age, size, general health, and even breed type.
Age can play a major role in dogs not getting along. Some older dogs might not enjoy the nonstop energy and lack of social graces from a rambunctious puppy. Mature dogs with aches and pains might also feel uncomfortable with other adult dogs that want to play hard.
However, even dogs close in age can have issues which are related to their social status. Two dogs of a similar age that are jockeying to be “top dog” in a household can lead to scuffles.
Dogs that aren’t introduced properly might have lasting negative feelings towards one another. The first meeting between two dogs is an important time to set the tone for future interactions. Dogs that are unable to go through a safe, ritualized greeting process might wind up uncomfortable being around one another long-term. And despite the popular advice to let dogs “work it out” on their own during a first meeting, allowing dogs to escalate to a full-on fight is never a safe idea.
Sometimes dogs just don’t get along for reasons we’ll never understand. Even when proper introduction protocols are followed and the dogs are well-matched in age, size, and temperament, there’s a chance that they won’t enjoy hanging out. Some siblings merely tolerate one another rather than falling in love, and as long as there’s peace in the household, this type of polite but not-so-friendly relationship is fine.
How To Help Dogs Get Along
If you are considering adding a dog to your pack or want your dogs to get along better, there are some ways that pet parents can help encourage a better relationship. Follow these tips to increase the likelihood of friendships between dogs.
Introductions Should Be Slow and Steady
The best way to introduce dogs is to use a neutral outdoor fenced area for the initial meeting. Both dogs should be on loose leads handled by experienced dog handlers who understand dog body language.
To begin, allow the dogs to parallel walk on either side of the fence so that they’re close enough to catch one another’s scent. Then bring both dogs into the space and parallel walk them ten to fifteen feet apart. If the dogs’ body language looks loose, waggy, and friendly, begin to decrease the distance between them. Then, once both handlers are confident with the dogs’ reactions, drop the leashes and allow the dogs to greet fully.
If the meeting seems strained or tense at any point, go back to the prior step of the process and slow down the pace.
Allow Decompression Time
Even though you might dream of an all-day play session starting the moment you bring your second dog home, the reality is that you should allot for important downtime if you want to help two dogs get along. Any dog that’s new to your home, particularly a dog that’s spent time in a shelter environment, needs a chance to unwind and adjust to the environment.
Set up a quiet, dog-proofed space for your new dog with a crate and a few treat-stuffable toys and take your time before fully integrating your new dog into your household. And keep in mind that even bestie-dogs that love playing together can use a break from one another, so schedule time for them to rest apart as well.
Manage the Environment
Some dogs will scuffle over prized resources like food bowls, toys, or bones. Feeding dogs in separate spaces is always a good idea. Have separate resources, like food and water bowls, bedding, and toys, for each dog If your dogs get surly over consumable like bones, use a baby gate to keep them safely apart during chew time.
Keep in mind that dogs can also guard locations, like a dog bed, or less obvious ones like a favorite spot on the couch or a prized outdoor viewing window. If your dogs constantly bicker over locations, try to make the spot inaccessible to both dogs, then reintroduce it gradually.
Learn Canine Body Language
Dogs have a nuanced communication system that we don’t always understand, and in many cases it happens so quickly that we don’t even see it. Our dogs are communicating with one another constantly, even if it’s as subtle as a glance or an ear flick.
Pet parents that tune into what their dogs are saying to one another are better able to predict when a situation is getting tense, and can intervene and redirect dogs before things spiral out of control.
Recognize Acceptable Corrections
Sometimes dogs are jerks to one another. They crowd the other’s food bowl, or sniff a bum for longer than acceptable, or tackle harder than necessary when playing. It might be off-putting to hear one dog tell another, “hey stop it” with a growl, but sometimes a dog-to-dog behavioral correction is necessary to keep the peace.
A quick, appropriate correction (such as a growl or bark) is a part of canine siblinghood and doesn’t mean that you’re headed for Armageddon. In a well-balanced home the boundary-pushing dog will heed the canine correction and back off immediately, and everything should go back to normal.
If not and the dogs continue to escalate, consider seeking professional help from a certified trainer.
Institute a “Say Please” Program
Multi-dog homes need manners, and there’s no easier way to do manners training while keeping the peace than by asking both dogs to politely ask for anything they want. A “say please” program asks dogs to do a simple training behavior to get something they want, like sitting politely before you put down the food bowl.
This protocol can be used anywhere. Rather than jockeying for position at the door to get outside, which can escalate tension, ask both dogs to sit for a few seconds, then release them to go out. Recognizing potential trigger situations between dogs and deescalating them using say-please training can help keep everyone in the household happy.
Spay/Neuter Your Dogs
Dogs that still have their sexual organs may have a harder time getting along with other dogs. Intact male and female dogs both have increased aggression related to sex hormones and may seek to be dominant more than neutered dogs. To keep the peace, it is best to spay/neuter all dogs in multi-dog households.
When To Seek Professional Help
Sometimes scuffles between dogs mean more than just sibling rivalry. If your dogs are fighting more than they’re getting along, or they’re injuring one another or you during fights, it’s time to find a qualified trainer or behaviorist to assess the relationship.
The hope is that a slow and steady introduction into the household, good management techniques, and an understanding of dog communication will help dogs get along and lead to a lifelong friendship.